Tens of thousands of Ukrainians start to arrive next week

Micheal Gove grilled on Ukrainian refugee scheme

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Households will be offered £350 a month to open their homes to people fleeing the Russian onslaught. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary said: “It’s the fastest way we can get people out of danger and into the United Kingdom.” Up to five million people are expected to flee Ukraine. Polish president Andrzej Duda described the situation as the “biggest crisis since the Second World War”.

Mr Gove said that in response more than 3,000 UK visas had now been issued to Ukrainians.

He also said he was prepared to take in a refugee in his home and would “explore an option” of seizing Russian oligarchs’ mansions to house those fleeing the conflict.

Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, people will be able to nominate a named individual, or a family, to stay with them rent-free, or in another property, for at least six months. A website to express an interest in being a sponsor will launch today.

Meanwhile, retailers Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons are among companies offering to employ Ukrainian refugees. Asos said it wanted to attract Ukraine’s strong technology engineering skills, while soap store Lush said it would open up internal vacancies to refugees.

Local authorities will receive £10,500 in extra funding per refugee for support services – more for children of school age.

So far, around 2.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine with Poland welcoming 1.6 million.

Neighbouring Hungary has taken in 245,000, while 196,000 have fled to Slovakia and another 85,000 to Romania.

Moldova is said to be at “breaking point” after taking in more than 300,000 refugees, its foreign minister has said.

The UK government has faced criticism, including from its own MPs, over the speed and scale of its response to the crisis.

Only those fleeing the conflict who have family connections in the UK have so far been able to make an application via the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Other visas are available but application centres in Ukraine are closed.

Under the new scheme, sponsors will not be required to know the refugees in advance and there will be no limit on numbers.

Ukrainians on the scheme will be given leave to remain for three years, with the right to work and access public services.

Mr Gove told the BBC that he anticipated “tens of thousands” of Ukrainians might be taken in and he hoped people fleeing the war would be able to benefit from the scheme “within
a week”.

Applications would be made online, with both sponsors being vetted and refugees having to go through security checks.

Asked if he would take a Ukrainian refugee into his home, Mr Gove said: “Yes,” and that he was “exploring what I can do”.

“Without going into my personal circumstances, there are a couple of things I need to sort out – but yes,” he added.

In a later phase of the scheme, organisations such as charities and churches will also be able to sponsor refugees, though there is no start date for this yet.

The Refugee Council said it was concerned people from Ukraine were facing further “bureaucratic hurdles”, and the scheme fell short of what was needed.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the NGO, said: “We are concerned that people from Ukraine are still not being recognised as refugees and being asked to apply for visas when they just need to be guaranteed protection.”

Claiming formal refugee status, or permission to stay for humanitarian reasons through the asylum system, does not require a visa and allows an applicant and their dependants to stay in the UK for five years, with the right to work, study and apply for benefits.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News the Government’s visa schemes have been “too slow, too narrow, too mean”, adding that it had not consulted local councils about the support that needed to be put in place.

He said: “Frankly, the last few weeks have been an embarrassment to the United Kingdom.”

Micheal Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, told the BBC that his country had taken in 5,500 Ukrainian refugees but had not carried out any security checks, saying: “The hum-anitarian response trumps everything as far as we’re concerned.”

He said the UK had not raised any issues about security and the two countries’ shared Common Travel Area.

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